Your teeth are made of a type of mineral, or crystal, called hydroxyapatite. In those that have grown up with fluoridated water and toothpaste, the surface of the teeth will be made of fluorapatite mineral. These minerals can be dissolved by exposure to acids. There are different types of acids that come into contact with our teeth, including but not limited to:
Lactic acid, produced by bacteria in our mouth when we eat carbohydrates and sugar; this typically causes decay or “cavities”.
Acetic acid, found in wine
Citric acid, one of the most potent acids in our diet and is found naturally in citrus fruits and beverages, and is also used as a food additive.
Ascorbic acid, also known as Vitamin C; this form is problematic when we have chewable vitamin tablets – opt for the type that can be swallowed whole where possible.
Stomach acid from vomitting or gastro-oesophageal reflux
Once the crystals have been dissolved away by strong acids, they can’t be added back onto the tooth. This pattern of tooth surface loss is typical of “dental erosion” which is a rapid and widespread dissolution of the tooth mineral.
Dental erosion due to acidic foods and drinks shows the following signs:
– Stripping of the mineral off the teeth, resulting in thinning and shortening of the teeth, chipping of the edges of the front teeth, and yellowing as the inner part (dentine) of the tooth becomes more exposed
– A collapse of the height of your teeth results in an overclosed appearance over time and the appearance of being older.
– Increased tooth sensitivity, again due to the exposure of the inner part of the tooth, dentine.
– Loss of white fillings, which is referred to as “debonding”, or fillings becoming more prominent as the tooth aorund them dissolves.
Restoring a mouth that has been severely affected by dental erosion is no easy task. Often it requires “full mouth rehabilitation” by an experienced dentist or specialist prosthodontist. This is a costly exercise in time, money, and mental energy. Ideally we want to prevent this scenario altogether, which can be done with the following lifestyle changes:
How can you mitigate the effects of acid in your diet?
1. Cut down on your acidic foods and drinks – again, that’s citrus, fizzy drinks (even the “sugar-free” types which are often more acidic that their sugary counterparts in order to be more flavoursome), wine and vinegar.
2. Use straws when drinking acidic beverages so it doesn’t wash over the teeth
3. Drink acidic drinks with food rather than sipping on them between meals and throughout the day so you get the benefit of protective saliva which is stimulated by chewing
4. Pair your wine with cheese, or switch to drinking beer (in moderation!) which is not associated wth dental erosion.
5. Hydrate with plenty of tap water every day (aim for 2 litres)
6. After an exposure to acidic food or drink, rinse your mouth with tap water or drink a glass of water, letting it wash over the teeth.
An awareness of what you’re putting into your body is the key to dental (and general) health. Get into a habit of reading labels on food and drinks – do you know what all of the ingredients are? If not, a quick internet search will empower you with the information needed to make healthier choices.